By Arthur Alpert
How do I love thee, oh minimum wage debate? Let me count the ways.
Well, no, let me enumerate, instead, just two reasons for my passion. First, minimum wage disputes are, at bottom, about distribution of power in the hierarchy. And understanding that the world is vertical (authoritarian), not horizontal (democratic) underlies how I think about everything, including journalism.
The second way I love thee, oh minimum wage debate, is how you illuminate the Albuquerque Journal’s decision to advocate rather than gather and disseminate news and views to help readers grasp what’s happening, and do so fairly.
(Working definition of journalism? Maybe.)
So let us update the Journal’s treatment of my love.
Just before my last post appeared here Feb. 16, the Journal published what a friend called its minimum wage “fig leaf.”
In his Op Ed Samuel Bowles of Santa Fe strongly backed higher minimum wages. True, now nobody can say the Journal never prints what it disagrees with.
Of course, one pro-minimum wage statement isn’t the same as fair treatment of the issue, but the Bowles essay will serve as cover, or a fig leaf.
Having said that, let’s zoom in on his column.
The editors’ headlined it, “Wage arguments missing the mark”.
Perfect! A perfect evasion, that is, of the essayist’s main point – that higher minimum wages benefit worker and community.
A professional editor might have written, “Boost minimum wage for families, economy”.
To be fair, a sub-head – “Santa Fe shows that jobs won’t be lost with higher pay rates” – did pick up on a piece of evidence in Bowles’ argument. (However, the sub-head appears in the print edition only.)
The author’s second major point – the underlying debate is about power, or where the cash goes.
“It’s looking more and more,” Bowles concluded, “like the two sides are who’s paying the minimum wage, and who’s receiving it.”
Again, a professional might have written, “Minimum Wage Debate About Who Pockets Cash”.
From the Journal’s skewed headlines let’s turn to the IDs the newspaper appends to opinion columns. This ran below Samuel Bowles’ effort:
“Bowles, a member of Sen. Robert Kennedy’s “economics brain trust” during his run for the presidency and an adviser to President Nelson Mandela on reforming the labor market, taught economics at Harvard and the University of Massachusetts and is now at the Santa Fe Institute.”
Fine with me; the editors identified Prof. Bowles as a liberal Democrat and an economist. Great.
Contrast that, however, with the ID below a Jan. 21 Op Ed clobbering the minimum wage from one Michael Saltsman of the Employment Policies Institute:
“The Employment Policies Institute is a non-profit research organization dedicated to studying public policy issues surrounding employment growth. EPI sponsors nonpartisan research which is conducted by independent economists at major universities around the country.”
Balderdash. This says saying nothing about liberal or conservative, about party affiliation or about what Saltsman’s professional game is.
And, as I noted in a January 24 post, it fails to inform that EPI is a front, paid for by national low-wage industries, presumably to keep wages low.
The disparity between the ID they gave Prof. Bowles and the ID they wrote for the corporate front is so immense that I imagine it was deliberate.
Moving on, we should recognize a couple of professional reports the editors chose not to subvert – Dan McKay’s cover story on the Mayor’s disinclination to enforce Albuquerque’s ordinance and Deborah Baker’s A3 account of the relative progress of minimum wage bills in the State House and Senate, both Wednesday, Feb. 20.
But – oh, how I love this subject – we cannot conclude without a salute to whatever Journal supervisor was responsible for a strange two-paragraph brief in the far left column of the Business Page Wednesday, Feb. 13.
The headline was, “Cruces Grudgingly Backs Wages Boost”.
You must read this so-called story, which said four members of the Las Cruces City Council endorsed state legislation to increase the minimum wage by one dollar, while three, including the Mayor, disagreed.
By my arithmetic, they voted “Yes” by 4-3. But the head said “grudgingly” and the lead said, “It was hardly an overwhelming initial endorsement.”
So tell me more. Surely “grudgingly” isn’t a synonym for “close.” Did somebody mutter “Aw, gee, do I hafta?” as he voted “Yea?” Did a desperado hold a gun on a councilor? Did blackmailers waving embarrassing photos persuade a member to vote “Yea” against her will?
Unfortunately, there’s nobody to ask, no reporter or, at least, no byline. So this interpretative piece – I stop short of calling it an editorial – arose from inert matter, spontaneously.
Of course, an editor might have produced the trash.
But no, he or she would have been too busy preparing the umpteenth episode in the Journal’s long-running collaboration-fest with the National Federation of Independent Business and its New Mexico director, which appeared at the bottom of the page.
Yes, once more there was loud weeping and wailing about poor, harassed small business and once more the Journal assumed that’s who the NFIB really represents – it’s a faulty assumption – and this time (by happenstance, I’m sure), the routine included a tiny note that small business didn’t need “more minimum wage increase pressures.”
How much do I love thee, oh minimum wage stories? My passion is as deep as the Albuquerque Journal’s desire to comfort the comfortable and afflict the powerless – and fairness be darned.